Document Type





Maternal employment, Working mothers, Gender equality, Family economic well-being, Parental leave, Child care, Luxembourg Income Study, LIS




Family, Life Course, and Society | Public Policy | Women's Studies


Despite their broadly similar political and economic systems, the rates and patterns of mothers' employment vary considerably across industrialized countries. This variation raises questions about the role played by government policies in enabling mothers to choose employment and, in turn, in shaping both gender equality and family economic well-being. This paper compares fourteen OECD countries, as of the middle-to-late 1980s, with respect to their provision of policies that support mothers' employment: parental leave, child care, and the scheduling of public education. Newly gathered data on eighteen policy indicators are presented; these indicators were chosen to capture support for maternal employment, regardless of national intent. The indicators are then standardized, weighted, and summed into indices. By differentiating policies that affect maternal employment from family policies more generally, while simultaneously aggregating individual policies and policy features into policy "packages", these indices reveal dramatic cross-national differences in policy provisions. The empirical results reveal loose clusters of countries that correspond only partially to prevailing welfare state typologies. For mothers with preschool-aged children, only five of the fourteen countries provided reasonably complete and continuous benefits that supported their options for combining paid work with family responsibilities. In the remaining countries, government provisions were much more limited or discontinuous. The pattern of cross-national policy variation changed notably when policies affecting mothers with older children were examined. The links between these findings and three sets of outcomes are considered. The indices provide an improved measure of public support for maternal employment and are expected to help explain cross-national differences in the level and continuity of women's labor market attachment. Prior findings on women's labor supply provide initial support for this conclusion. These indices are also useful for contrasting family benefits that are provided through direct cash transfers with those that take the form of support for mothers' employment. Cross-national variation in combinations of transfers with employment supports is found to correspond to differences in child poverty rates. Finally, these policy findings contribute to the body of scholarship that seeks to integrate gender issues more explicitly into research on welfare state regimes. This study suggests that the country clusters identified in the dominant regime model fail to cohere with respect to the subset of family policies that specifically help women to combine paid work with parenting.